Minute Women after WWI
Minute Women of Washington
by Shanna Stevenson
Minute Women after World War I
By 1919, the organization of the State Councils of Defense was faltering, although there had been an attempt to keep the framework in place for the work of “community organizations,” which would help with post-war efforts. But it seemed to fizzle. Dr. Shaw and other women’s groups were loath to give up their momentum. “To garner the fruits of victory . . . it is imperative that there shall be no demobilization of the woman power of American. It must remain organized, equipped and ready for action.”40
Washington women determined to stay in existence after the war—unlike in other states like Illinois where the work of the Woman’s Council was parceled out to other organizations.
Mrs. Ellis and Mrs. McKee called a meeting in Tacoma in September 1918 to explore continuing the Minute Women. At a second meeting in August, 1919 they determined to form a constitution for a revised organization with 17 counties represented.41
In the fall of 1919 District and County Councilors were called together in Tacoma to take first steps toward effecting a permanent organization of Minute Women. Their goal was to continue to perform community welfare in times of peace. They wanted to “perpetrate the fellowship of war service, guard the memories of the war and the war dead and promote Americanization.” Some Washington counties — Lewis and Benton - had already permanently organized.
The first meeting of the group was held in Seattle in 1920 and they determined they did not want to affiliate with other organizations. The organizers again were Mrs. Ellis and Mrs. McKee.
Membership was extended to those who were registered as Minute Women prior to November 11, 1921 and then daughters of these women over 18 became eligible. The dues were 10 cents per year.42 The goals of the group were: “Perpetuate the fellowship of service and memories of the World War; engage in community service; familiarize its membership with the new ideals and responsibilities of American Americanization among all classes; guard the memory of the heroic dead and hold free safe-guarded by their sacrifice.”
The women eventually invited anyone who had done war work to join the organization and they also invited the mothers, wives, daughters and sisters of WW I Veterans to become associate members. The name of the group as incorporated was “Minute Woman Association of Washington.”43
A primary goal of the organization was to donate to veterans, particularly those in veteran’s homes. Everything from canaries and carpet rags to jellies, jams and radios were solicited. They provided cigarettes, cards, magazines, Christmas cards, candy and scrapbooks to hospitalized veterans. Their most important work came in supporting disabled veterans through their “Forget Me Not Fund.” They also supported veteran’s families—supplying food, paying bills and providing clothing. They sent magazines and wrote letters for veterans and baked cakes for hospitality of visiting military. They also placed wreaths on veteran’s graves. They planted five elms in honor of unknown soldiers of Washington and a memorial tree at Sand Point in 1931.44 They sold goods made by former service men in Port Townsend and Cushman Hospitals and worked with the American Legion in selling poppies.45
Besides remodeling a common room there, they adopted a ward at Cushman Hospital in Tacoma. They also worked extensively at the veteran’s home at American Lake near Lakewood, eventually planting a large garden there as a 15 acre “Minute Woman’s Observation Garden” in 1929. The garden is no longer extant.47
The women planned to fund a recreational camp for disabled soldiers at Bainbridge Island in the 1920s. [No evidence has been found about the camp except for plans in the records.]48 The women served all Washington veterans even those in other states. In 1924, Mrs. H. D. Hurley, President of the King County Minute Women served on a committee investigating the treatment of veterans.49
The women also worked with the Tuberculosis Association, supported the Tercentenary of Landing of Pilgrims and planted of trees along the highways, as well as supporting more arcane issues such as the preservation of huckleberries and promoting the rhododendron as state flower.50
At their state meetings, they supported resolutions for world peace and the international court of justice but favored compulsory military service.51 They supported the work of former legislator and Bellingham resident Frances Axtell in the Committee for Reduction of Armament by International Agreement. They also continued their work with the Red Cross.
Later the Minute Women supported such causes as not abbreviating the name of Washington; promoting health and nutrition through public schools; support for Children’s Orthopedic Hospital; the Sheppard-Towner bill; County Library Bill; Extension Agents; “Tiny Yank”; Americanization; Towner-Sterling Bill Separate Citizenship for Women; home for feeble minded; and funding for Woman’s Industrial Home and Clinic.52 The group discussed birth-control and favored child adoption legislation.53 In 1923, they requested a survey from the Department of Labor on children working in fruit and vegetable industries and worked in pre-natal education for the department of child hygiene.54
Individual clubs such as the one Friday Harbor worked with other women’s organizations for memorials such as the Fountain Memorial Park in Friday Harbor, dedicated on November, 20, 1920.55 In Waterville members participated securing a Memorial Building for WWI Veterans.
The Minute Women contributed to the Gold Star Flag in Volunteer Park in Seattle which had a gold star for each soldier killed from King County dedicated in an Armistice Day program in 1920. They also recognized war work. In 1919, the Minute Women presented the women who assisted in Liberty Loan drives with a medal made from captured German cannon. The group was also given a gavel made of oak and elm and French and German shells from Belleau Wood in France—a gift presented by Mrs. Theodora M. Hurley through the efforts of the French and the French Consulate in Seattle.56
An enduring project of the group was a marker placed at Dixmude on Victory Road near Chateau Thierry and Belleau Wood in France. This was part of an effort of by the Touring Club of France to mark the line where the German advance was stopped by soldiers reinforced by American troops in July and August, 1918.
The project was announced when Mrs. Edgar (Anne) Ames met Marshall Joffre at the Peace Monument in Blaine in 1922. Mrs. Ames presented him with letter and initial check to erect a monument or memorial mile stone on the line of battle from North Sea to Swiss Border in memory of Washington soldiers. Eventually $350.00 was raised around the state for the war memorial. The Washington Minute Women were the first American group to participate in the project. Mrs. Ames had the position of the marker changed to reflect where Washington troops were involved in the fighting and also requested that rhododendrons be planted around the marker.
When it was dedicated, Mrs. Ames had her Minute Women badge embedded in the stone. It was put in place on January 9, 1924. The marker was one of 240 planned milestones. The four-foot- high Alsatian granite markers were designed by Paul Moreau-Vauthier. The inscription is “Here the invasion was arrested in 1918. In honor of the heroic deed: from the women of the state of Washington.” The marker has a soldier’s helmet resting on a wreath. Amazingly, after nearly 85 years, it still stands outside the Chateau Thierry cemetery. The marker is the only one funded by Washington State and one of 119 markers that were built.57
The Minute Women organized lectures on American history and organized into several Committees-- American Government, Americanization, and Public Health. They continued many of the some programs as during their war work but also branched out into Civic Fine Arts and legislative advocacy for women’s issues. As they were during the war-years, Minute Women were organized into districts with chairmen for each district.
They worked with the Daughters of the American Revolution in Americanization activities as well as with the League of Women Voters on legislative matters. They distributed certificates of citizenship on July 4 to those attending their majority during the year.
In some counties, such as Douglas, the organization fell apart because of apathy, weariness from the war; competition from existing organizations and rural distances. In other areas, the American Legion Auxiliary took the place of the Minute Women. Although the organization endured until 1943, the numbers of active counties steadily dwindled. State Councilors included: Mrs. Ruth McKee, 1920; Mrs. O. G. Ellis, 1921; Mrs. R.C. McCredie, 1923; Mrs. Edgar Ames , 1924-26; Mrs. W. F. Docories,1927; Mrs. B. E. Padgett,1928-9; Mrs. W. T. Holloman, 1930-31; Mrs. E. G. Whitmarsh, 1933-34; Mrs. Wilson, 1935-36; Mrs. Miller, 1937-38; Mrs. Hazelton, 1938-1940; Mrs. Mita Dorotnig, 1941-42; and Mrs. Harry Westfall, 1942-43.58
The Minute Women opposed “radicalism.” In 1921 they backed the Lewis County Minute Women who protested the appearance of “radical women at a Women’s Legislative Council of Washington Convention.”59 They were present and placed a wreath at the marker dedication of Armistice Day Heroes marker in Centralia for Warren Grimm, Ben Casagranda and Arthur McElfresh who were killed in an Armistice Day parade in 1919 by IWW gunmen.60 They also called for loyalty oaths for teachers in 1935.
Throughout the 1930s they focused their work in Veteran’s Hospitals—at Cushman in Tacoma, Steilacoom, then at American Lake when it was completed in 1924, the Bremerton Naval Hospital and in Walla Walla. By the mid 1930s only five active branches remained---in Pierce, Thurston, Snohomish, King and Lewis Counties. In many areas of the state the American Legion Auxiliary had taken over their work.
The women took their work for the hospitalized veterans very seriously. Besides providing jams, jellies and other food stuffs, they produced slippers, socks, quilts, robes, and bed jackets. They donated radios and razors and arranged for glasses and shoes to be repaired. They advocated for a change and expansion of American Lake from purely psychiatric hospital. They made drapes and cushions and upholstered furniture for the veterans.61
Despite this important work, as time went on the women, who had restricted their membership to those actually serving in war work, aged. Their minutes become fraught with illness and inability to drive to state-wide conferences. Although they hobbled on through the early 1940s— and anticipated they would be called on again when war was declared,62 they seemed to just peter out from all of their services.